The 2015 Hideout Mainstage Season: Redux

The Hideout Theatre revealed its 2015 Mainstage season. And just like I did last year, I’m going to give you my hot-off-the-press opinion on each show. I reserve the right to be wrong.


Wanderlust – January/February

The word “wanderlust” is familiar to anyone who’s done any online dating. Every other person on OKCupid claims to be stricken by this pernicious disease. “Wanderlust” is to social networking what “quaint” is to real estate listings: a wholly misleading, generous overestimation of reality. When an otherwise lovely young woman writes that she has “wanderlust,” I think to myself, Oh! She likes vacations! How unique!

(“Wanderlust” seems a lot less romantic an ideal, by the way, when you have to foot the bill.)

All of which has nothing to do with this show.

This show, the first mainstage directed by Ruby Willman and Aaron Seinz, hints at telling more than a traditional improvised love story. The audition notice includes this description:

Each week a new pair inhabits the lead roles, giving our cast a rare opportunity to shine with copious stage time. But the weekly duo isn’t alone. Our full ensemble uses dynamic stage pictures and movement to create a stunningly visual world that reflects the emotional weight of our protagonists’ thoughts and actions.

I’m not auditioning for this show for two reasons. First, I’m so immersed in Chekhov right now, taking any other show seriously seems implausible. My tired man brain can’t handle it. Second, I “move” about as nimbly as a vicodin-stuffed panda. “Galumph” is a not inaccurate onomatopoeia for my movement across a theater stage. I look forward to seeing this show, safely in the comfort of a padded chair.

Austin Secrets: Season 5 – March & April 

Improvisers want to be in Austin Secrets bad.

For starters, it sells out. It’s damn popular (which is why there were more than a few incredulous groans when it took 2014 off). There’s always great buzz, both inside and outside the improv community, about Austin Secrets. It seems somehow more special to be in this show than just about any other.

But also, Austin Secrets tends to run the improv gamut from “hilarious” to “tear-jerky.” When at its best, this show yanks the audience emotionally to and fro. And it does so authentically. At its best, which it usually is, Austin Secrets is sans artifice.

The laughs are heartier because they’re releasing pressure. The tears well up more quickly because humans love to feel stuff. We are ridiculous. We are absurd. We are hopeful. We are here.

I’m going to audition for this show because I want to be in this show. Bad.

Scene of the Crime – May & June

My dad will throttle me if I don’t audition for this show. “It’s improvised Agatha Christie, for chrissakes!” he’d say.

Before we go any further, let’s all take a moment to remind ourselves what Agatha Christie looks like:

Christie Portrait

This is a photo (drawing??) of Agatha Christie.

Now then.

When I was a kid, eight or nine, I’d visit my dad every other weekend. We spent Saturday nights watching PBS’ long block of British TV shows. First was an hour or two of Agatha Christie mysteries, followed by the comedies like Are You Being Served? and Fawlty Towers.

I liked the comedies more than the mysteries, but what the hell did I know?? I was nine! Nine years old are notoriously stupid.

Now that I’m no longer nine—now that I am, in fact, older than nine—everything has changed. I’m morphing into my father more and more each day. There are a few grey hairs now; I make noises when I stand up quickly; I get excited when I hear Tom Hanks and Spielberg are teaming up for another episode of the WWII Show.

So the prospect of digging into a juicy mystery—a British juicy mystery—thrills me. When someone offers to host a “Murder Mystery” dinner party, I look forward to it for weeks. I watch PBS On Demand.

The other big bonus for this show, Scene of the Crime, is the director: Troy Miller. Troy’s one of my favorite improvisers—easy as hell to play with and very thoughtful about the art of improv. That second part will make him an excellent director. Not to mention the fact he’s an award-winning screenwriter of mysteries set in this general milieu. This is square in the middle of Troy’s wheelhouse.

Am I sucking up? You bet!! You bet … your life!!!

Happily Ever After – July & August

This is improvised Disney. This is full-on musical Disney! This is big time. First, a few Disney opinions:

  • I think Frozen is a perfect screenplay. Perfect.
  • I think the song “When You’re the Best of Friends”—the main theme from my favorite Disney film, Fox & the Hound—is the saddest song about the sweetest subject I know.
  • I think the best vacation from my childhood was the road trip to Disneyland.

But right now, six months out, I’m not sure if I’ll audition for this show. Because with Ryan Austin at the helm, this show is going to to aim for a top-class production, which require top-class talent. And while I think I can do a great impression of Copper the hound…

… I’m not sure I can improvise songs well enough. Why not?

Because my ability to effectively improvise a full song without referencing genitalia or the Holocaust is less than reliable. Having little experience with improvised singing, and no formal training, I tend to lose the thread somewhere in the middle of the second verse, at which point I fall back on the old reliables: butts and Nazis, Nazi butts.

Which wouldn’t necessarily preclude me from being in this show, but this show is setting out to be family friendly. There will be children—CHILDREN!!!—in the audience. That means more songs about friendship and first love; fewer murder ballads.

The Disney lawyers are probably firing up their “cease and desist letter” printing machine as I write this.

August & September – A Deed So Dark

What better successor to happy-go-lucky Disney than old-fashioned American crime? Make no mistake, the Hideout Theatre is no pushover. It’s not all fairy tales and romantic comedies. PEOPLE DIE HERE.

Following up on her success directing last year’s Edward Gorey-themed show, A Bedtime Gorey, Valerie Ward is returning with another dark production. And let’s be clear, Valerie is the main reason to see and audition for this show. She remains the best improv coach I’ve ever worked with, and her ability to formulate and then execute an artistic vision is second to nobody in the Austin improv community.

But there’s also the murder. The good, old-fashioned, In Cold Blood-style murder.

Knowing nothing more about this show than the description in the poster, I’m going to guess it’ll be a tricky show to pull off. Because when improvisers try to do passionate drama—when they try not to be funny—the results can be mixed. To dramatize tales of old-fashioned murder without it coming off as overwrought or fake is a daunting task.

But I have no doubt, Valerie will ensure that task is met.

Boy, Howdy! – November & December

Improvised westerns. Cowboys and Indians. Shoot-outs. Less Deadwood, more Bonanza.

A couple of summers ago, I took the two-day improv “intensive” workshop lead by Parallelogramohonograph. At one point in the weekend—which focused on how to creative narrative plays out of thin air—we watched the first part of the Bonanza pilot. P-Graph used the show to highlight, I think, how to handle exposition deftly—how to make plot emotionally engaging.

Because plot isn’t intrinsically emotional. Which isn’t to say it isn’t intrinsically interesting; it is. I could watch Liam Neeson rescue his taken daughter for two hours, easy. Those Taken movies are 95% plot, with a token 5% spent trying to make us care about these characters (i.e., emotion).

But Bonanza ran longer than almost any TV show ever has. It enraptured millions of Americans every week for 14 seasons, more than 400 episodes. Why? That’s what I think this show will attempt to answer.

As P-Graph pointed out in their improv workshop, Bonanza (i.e., westerns) makes for fantastic improv fodder. Boy, Howdy makes perfect sense as the final show of 2015. This show, I’m wildly guessing, will have the playful tone of Reform School for Wayward Girls with the tried-and-true soap opera tropes found in most westerns.

And it makes perfect sense for Kaci Beeler—she of the who-what-where-why expertise—to take the reins.

(“The reins”? See what I did  there?)

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